April 24, 2014

Tag Archives: Kathryn Stockett

“THE HELP, a Cultural Touchstone” – By Myrlie Evers-Williams

HollywoodNews.com: My mother was “the help.” And so was her mother. I’m telling you these things because they were courageous and they were not alone in their courage. Legions of black women like them—maids and waitresses and caretakers who fanned out across Vicksburg and Mississippi and the South to work in the homes and restaurants and hotels owned, operated and occupied by whites—practiced small measures of courage every day by facing constant violent threat and institutionalized racism instated by the very people they were charged with feeding, rearing and caring for their children.
Theirs is an American story that is rarely told on any grand, meaningful scale—not one, at least, that defies stereotype and caricature. But recently, “The Help,” a film based on Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling book of the same name, became a cultural touchstone when two of its lead characters, both African-American maids in the then-staunchly segregated Mississippi, challenged viewers to walk their journey—to see, as lead protagonist, Abileen Clark, said, “what it felt like to be me.”
To me, “The Help” is this year’s most outstanding and socially relevant motion picture; Viola Davis’ quiet but powerful portrayal of Abileen made us all take notice of a historically invisible class of women and Abileen’s story, along with those of the other maids who rallied with her to tell it, remind us that when we speak, if only in a whisper, momentous things can happen.
Of course, the movie, does not come without its controversy: while so many, myself included, questioned then embraced Stockett’s story and actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer earned Academy Award nominations for their roles as the maids who conspired with a young white woman to canonize their life stories, others question why, 70 years after Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for her portrayal as the affable, sassy slave maid Mammy in “Gone With the Wind,” Hollywood ushered to the screen a movie feting the Jim Crow subjugation of black women.
What is lost in the debate is that the movie tells a story that needed to be told in a grand way—the story of ordinary women who, even in their housemaid uniforms, were everyday heroes.
This isn’t about Hollywood. This isn’t about “black” stories and who tells them. This is about our mothers and grandmothers. And the countless other women who were “the help”—the women who climbed off the bus Saturday afternoons after a hard week of tireless, thankless [...]

Octavia Spencer, SAG winner, on Mississippi heat and the book-club roots of “The Help” – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: Octavia Spencer has been a gracious winner all awards season long … which is important, because virtually every time she claims a trophy, she’s triumphing over her “Help” co-star Jessica Chastain.
Yet at every awards gala, the women of “The Help” come across as the picture of solidarity, and every win – and there were three key victories at the SAG awards Sunday night – is a vote of approval for “Team Help.”
Spencer took home the prize for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role for her work as Minny Jackson in Tate Taylor’s film. It gives us an opportunity to revisit a chat I had with Spencer and her close friend, author Kathryn Stockett, prior to the release of “The Help.” We didn’t talk Oscars at the time. That conversation was far from their minds. It’s front and center now, mind you, but back then, we discussed book clubs, best friends, and the power of this story.
Here’s SAG winner Octavia Spencer and “The Help” novelist Kathryn Stockett:
HollywoodNews.com: Did you always have it in the back of your mind that this book would make for an excellent film?
Kathryn Stockett: Look, I didn’t think that it was going to get published. [Laughs] So I couldn’t even put it in print, much less on the screen.
HollywoodNews.com: We need to figure out how we can serve Minny’s friend chicken in the theaters. Can you cut a deal with the chains that, instead of popcorn, they serve friend chicken, because the various cooking scenes in the film have me salivating for some home-cooked friend chicken.
Stockett: I have had more people tell me that after they saw the film, they went right out and got a bucket of friend chicken. [Laughs]
Octavia Spencer: Then chicken places need to give you some stock.
Stockett: And the funny thing is this food isn’t just in the movie. It was all over the set. I gained 15 pounds. Tate Taylor gained 35! We could have created a small human being with our weight gain.
Spencer: Yet, I lost 16 pounds from the heat. It was hot, I was sweating. But also, somebody was cooking for me every day, which was wonderful because it meant I was eating lunch on the set. I’m not a cook. I used to be a drive-thru junkie. But when you are on set, you [...]

Viola Davis, SAG winner, on “The Help,” Tate Taylor and Kathryn Stockett – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: By most accounts, this year’s Best Actress race boils down to “Doubt” co-stars Meryl Streep and Viola Davis, competing on behalf of their respective films “The Iron Lady” and “The Help.” Yet choosing a frontrunner has been difficult. Davis might take home a Critics’ Choice Movie Award, but Streep answers with a Golden Globe.
Sunday night, Davis reclaimed the “lead,” so to speak, with a SAG win in the category of Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, and once again, the “Help” star appears to have Oscar’s edge.
With that in mind, we’re revisiting a conversation we had early in the Oscar season with Davis and her “Help” director Tate Taylor. We met in Atlanta, long before the film had reached theaters, and discussed Mississippi heat, Southern hospitality, and the importance of Kathryn Stockett’s novel.
Here’s SAG winner Viola Davis and her director, Tate Taylor:
HollywoodNews.com: Whether it’s true or not, Ms. Davis, I would just love for you to tell me that I am smart, that I am kind, and that I am important.
Viola Davis: [Laughs] Oh, absolutely. You are smart, and you are kind. And you are wearing a very nice jacket.
HollywoodNews.com: Well, I’ll take that, thank you very much. [Laughs] I need to be honest when I say that the film made me feel a little bit uncomfortable as I realized just how close this era of our nation’s history is to present day. I think in the back of our minds, we tend to say that this significant divide between the races happened oh so long ago, when that really isn’t the case.
Tate Taylor: Yes, but it’s still our history. I think Emma Stone actually said it, where in a lot of education systems in our country, this information is not taught. Emma said she basically knew about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., but had no idea about stories like this. So it wasn’t our intent to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but I think it’s great that later generations can now know about this.
HollywoodNews.com: Absolutely. And any sort of uncomfortableness, for me, broke in this fantastic uplifting scene where Viola, your character smiles as she recalls the first child she ever helped raise. It might be the first time we see your character smile in the film, and it was like helium filling the room and [...]

“The Help” director Tate Taylor on awards, the box office success and his amazing cast – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Tate Taylor’s ensemble dramedy “The Help,” his crowd-pleasing adaptation of close friend Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, has been an awards contender since … well, since it opened back in August. And Taylor will tell you, it feels like he hasn’t stopped talking about the film, his cast, and the film’s impact since late summer, when the story of brave Southern women fighting for basic human rights captivated filmgoers.
I felt bad making Taylor talk even more about his movie, but with the awards season kicking into high gear, I knew I’d be one of thousands hoping to get the young director’s opinion on the happenings surrounding “The Help.” And it’s only going to get busier. The movie just grabbed eight Critics’ Choice Movie Award nominations, including Bets Picture. The next day, it claimed multiple Screen Actors Guild noms including Best Ensemble.
And yet, Taylor remains as open, gracious honest and funny as he was when we first sat down to discuss “The Help” back in August. Here’s Tate Taylor, catching me up on all things “Help” as the film rides a massive awards wave of support:
HollywoodNews.com: When it opened back in August, “The Help” stayed at No. 1 at the box office for four consecutive weekends. It is the only film that accomplished that this year. What did that feel like?
Tate Taylor: You know, it’s really, really strange. I somehow feel – perhaps because it’s so overwhelming – it almost doesn’t even seem real. It’s like, there’s this movie that we made as such a close-knit family – the actors, the crew, the experience, the great state of Mississippi – it seems like there was this experience that we had, and there’s this thing that is happening. So I often find myself having to remind myself, “That’s your movie!” I know that sounds strange. It’s frightening, it’s exhilarating, it’s strange.
But those four weeks? The main word is “pride.” It wasn’t a “gloat” feeling. It wasn’t even, “Hell yeah, we rock!” When you write something and you pour your heart and soul into it, the best thing you can have is human validation. To know that people loved it that much and were going back to see it again. They were going to see ordinary women do great things. And to hear about conversations taking place in parking lots of malls … that just made me excited. [...]

“The Help” reboots Oscar campaign with DVD, Blu-ray release – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: In honor of Tate Taylor’s “The Help” reaching DVD and Blu-ray today, we’re revisiting the summer blockbuster and examining the extras that are exclusive to the discs.
Deleted scenes and a “Making of” featurette await those who pick up Disney’s release. In addition, Mary J. Blige includes a music video for her hit single “The Living Proof,” and there’s a tribute to the historical maids of Mississippi titled “In Their Own Words” that continues the messages raised by Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel.
EW.com, meanwhile, has an interesting story about a deleted scene from “The Help” that hit the cutting room floor and didn’t make the DVD clip reel … and that might be for the best.
The scene in question finds Allison Janney’s character meeting Skeeter’s (Emma Stone) boyfriend for the first time. There’s a “clean” version of the scene on the DVD. But Stone tells the magazine that in a lost take, director Taylor dared Janney to work blue, so to say, and surprise her co-stars with a salty line delivery.

“So we do the scene, and Allison goes, ‘Well, Senator Whitworth? He f—ed me silly after Ole Miss won the Sugar Bowl!’ Everyone burst out laughing behind the monitor,” Stone recalls. “Whenever I see that scene I just imagine Allison saying that.”
And now, we will, as well.
“The Help” continues to build awards buzz as it marches through the Oscar season. Viola Davis leads several Best Actress lists on Gold Derby, and Octavia Spencer is in the mix for Best Supporting Actress. “Help” is widely considered to be a Best Picture contender, and it could bring Taylor along with it for the ride.
Earlier this year, we honored the ensemble of “The Help” at the Hollywood Film Awards gala. Here is Davis’ acceptance speech on behalf of her formidable cast. At the time, some Oscar bloggers believed this was the moment that cemented her as a player in the awards race. Hard to argue.

Looking for more “Help” coverage? Read our exclusive interviews with Tate Taylor, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Kathryn Stockett. Then grab “The Help” on DVD or Blu-ray, out in stores today.
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Oscars: Is “The Help” our current frontrunner? – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: For a handful of reasons, Tate Taylor’s “The Help,” an adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, feels like it could lay claim to the title of Best Picture frontrunner.
The film has impressive box office stats ($167.4 million domestically), decent reviews (62 on MetaCritic, 75% on Rotten Tomatoes), and at least one cast member in Viola Davis who’s largely believed to be a lock for an Oscar nomination.
“The Help” also is the type of film the Academy hoped to include when it expanded the Best Picture category from 5 films to 10 two years back. There’s no telling how things will land this year, however.
Plus – and this is important – no other film has come along to wrestle the frontrunner status away from “The Help.” That doesn’t mean another film won’t open between now and the end of the year to swing momentum away from Taylor’s film. And declaring “The Help” the favorite to win Best Picture is liking crowning a World Series winner after the third inning of Game One. But at this moment in the long, long race, it’s easy to see why some Oscar trackers are seeing Taylor’s film as the one to beat.
Take Mark Harris. He recently filed a ballot on Gold Derby picking “The Help” for Best Picture and Davis for Best Actress.
Across the way, however, Jeff Wells responds in the negative, saying that the film “has never had genuine Best Picture heat and never will have genuine Best Picture heat because no one of any perception or integrity thinks it’s any kind of four-star achievement. It’ll probably be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar but solely because it made a lot of money. Even if the Oscar goes to the most popular film without regard to quality, Harris seems to be forgetting that a majority of Academy members are male. There are no beer-sipping, Cosby-sweater-wearing, baseball-bat-swinging guys out there who think The Help is any kind of great film…none.”
It’s hard to argue that point when you look back over the list of recent Best Picture winners. Titles like “The King’s Speech,” “The Hurt Locker,” “No Country for Old Men” and “The Departed” skew toward a male perspective, often to the detriment of movies like “The Queen,” “Juno” and “The Blind Side,” to name a few.
Like I said, it’s too early to be talking frontrunners. And Disney [...]

“The Help” crosses the $100M mark – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Tate Taylor’s “The Help” crossed the $100 million mark at the domestic box office Tuesday night … and probably cemented its status as a Best Picture nominee at the 2011 Academy Awards in the process.
Taylor’s adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel has earned $100.9M in its first 21 days. Most critics will tell you it’s riding a wave of extremely positive reviews. Virtually every person who approaches me at social events or in public, those who know what I do for a living, immediately want to talk to me about “The Help” and how much they loved it. The film even passes the “Mom test,” as my own mother – who goes to maybe one or two movies a year – saw it last weekend with a group of friends. They all adored it.
Critics are falling in line. The movie has a 74% Fresh grade on Rotten Tomatoes. That, coupled with its stellar box office, means “The Help” likely will become this year’s “The Blind Side” … a movie that’s adored by audience members, largely respected by the majority of critics, and made up of multiple award-worthy performances.
Disney has its awards campaign cut out for itself. The studio’s challenge will be keeping this film on people’s radar through the awards season, especially as heavier dramatic competition floods theaters in October, November and December. Maybe Disney can rush “The Help” to DVD and Blu-ray in time for the holidays?
For the latest awards season news, be sure to visit (and bookmark) our Awards Alley, which brings you up-to-the-minute news, interviews and reviews of every film in the awards race.
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“The Help” helps its awards chances – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Boffo box office is not the be-all-and-end-all, but the best laid plans of some awards strategists have been waylaid when films with aspirations have fizzled in the marketplace.
To that end, Tate Taylor’s “The Help” helped its fledgling awards campaign by opening to a robust $25.5 million in estimated ticket sales. Though the film opened behind reigning box office champ “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” Taylor’s adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s racial-divide novel earned outstanding grades from audience members (an A+ on CinemaScore) and began generating awards buzz.
“It seems to me like Emma Stone and Viola Davis should be campaigned as Best Actress while the rest of the strong female cast (including Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, and Sissy Spacek) belongs in the supporting category,” Dave Karger writes for EW, focusing on the Oscar race.
Broadening the viewpoint, “The Help” is poised to perform well with The Broadcast Film Critics Association’s annual Critics’ Choice Award (the group’s Best Ensemble category seems ideal for this rock-solid acting corps), as well as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globes.
It’s early in the race, and we’re just now starting to see the formidable roles we expect to compete in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress roles. We’ll know in the next few weeks how Stone, Davis, Spencer and Chastain stack up against the likes of Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”), Tilda Swinton (“We Need To Talk About Kevin”), Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet (both of Roman Polanski’s “Carnage”). My guess is that Davis and Spencer stay at the forefront of the conversation, even as Stone and Chastain – as good as they are in the film — start slipping behind the competition.
But at least “The Help” remains in the hunt, for as unfair as the practice might be, a bad opening weekend would have silenced these awards discussions in a heartbeat.
For more on “The Help,” be sure to read our interviews with Viola Davis, Tate Taylor, Octavia Spencer and Kathryn Stockett, only on HollywoodNews.com’s Awards Alley.
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“The Help” earns A+ from early audiences

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Tate Taylor’s adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” opened around the country on Wednesday night and scored two major victories.
First, the Civil Rights drama pocketed an estimated $5.5 million in grosses, establishing itself as a box-office contender (which is crucial to the film’s pending Oscar campaign).
Second — and perhaps more important to Taylor, Stockett and their cast — the films is playing like gangbusters with its fan base, many of whom read the book and came to the theater hoping “The Help” lived up to the hype.
THR reports that the drama, which stars Emma Stone as a fledgling journalist penning a novel from the perspective of Mississippi maids, earned an impressive A+ score from audience members through CinemaScore. As the trade points out, only “Soul Surfer” earned as high a grade, though that film was supported by loyal Christian groups who embraced the movie’s empowering message.
“The Help,” meanwhile, is being fuelled by book-club members who likely will continue to flock to theaters all weekend. Disney is guessing “The Help” will open in the $20 million range. I think they are being conservative. The movie’s going to open big … and we’ll be reading about it all during the lengthy Oscar season.
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Octavia Spencer, Kathryn Stockett on the troubles and triumphs of “The Help” – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Tate Taylor’s “The Help,” an adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s immensely popular novel documenting the South’s racial divide in the 1960s, opens in theaters today.
Depending on who you believe, the picture’s Oscar campaign either officially begins or is dead in the water.
I’m opting for the former. Disney and DreamWorks have a hit on their hands, as “Help” should play extremely well with its sizeable book-club fan base. Positive word of mouth should drive patrons into theaters at a time when high-calorie summer blockbusters are giving way to meatier, mature dramas. And conversations outside of theaters following screenings no doubt will focus on the award-worthy performances given by Taylor’s cast, most notably Viola Davis (whom we interviewed here), Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard.
To anyone paying attention, it’s clear that “The Help” has only taken its first few steps in this year’s awards race, and I expect to see it running with the pack as the marathon continues.
But we didn’t dive into Oscars or awards when I sat down with Octavia Spencer and Kathryn Stockett in Atlanta. We placed our focus where it belongs — on the characters, the Southern culture, the food and the family atmosphere these artists embraced while making “The Help.”
HollywoodNews.com: Did you always have it in the back of your mind that this book would make for an excellent film?
Kathryn Stockett: Look, I didn’t think that it was going to get published. [Laughs] So I couldn’t even put it in print, much less on the screen.
HollywoodNews.com: We need to figure out how we can serve Minnie’s friend chicken in the theaters. Can you cut a deal with the chains that, instead of popcorn, they serve friend chicken, because the various cooking scenes in the film have me salivating for some home-cooked friend chicken.
Stockett: I have had more people tell me that after they saw the film, they went right out and got a bucket of friend chicken. [Laughs]
Octavia Spencer: Then chicken places need to give you some stock.
Stockett: And the funny thing is this food isn’t just in the movie. It was all over the set. I gained 15 pounds. Tate Taylor gained 35! We could have created a small human being with our weight gain.
Spencer: Yet, I lost 16 pounds from the heat. It was hot, I was sweating. But also, somebody was cooking for me [...]

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